Chilean courts consider lifting Pinochet immunity

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The Independent US

Chile's Supreme Court have opened a crucial session to decide whether Gen. Augusto Pinochet should be tried on human rights charges.

Chile's Supreme Court have opened a crucial session to decide whether Gen. Augusto Pinochet should be tried on human rights charges.

Pinochet's defence hoped that the 20 justices would first order medical tests on the 84 year old former dictator to determine whether he is fit to stand trial. However lawyers for the plaintiffs insist that Pinochet must be tried in one of the most notorious human rights abuses of his 17-year dictatorship, the so-called "caravan of death.".

The "caravan of death" was a military squad that traveled several cities shortly after the 1973 coup, executing 72 jailed dissidents. Nineteen of those victims have never been found.

Pinochet's lawyer claim that the former dictator had no responsibility in the killings, but lawyers for the plaintiffs insist that the chief of the caravan acted on Pinochet's behalf.

The court began deliberations after listening to nine hours of arguments the week before by one lawyer for Pinochet and eight for the plaintiffs. While no date has been set for a ruling, Chief Justice Hernan Alvarez has said the court could issue one by the end of the week.

Pinochet suffers from diabetes, wears a pacemaker and sustained three mild strokes in London, where he spent 16 months under house arrest on a warrant by a Spanish judge wanting to try him for human rights abuses.

The court is to rule on Pinochet's appeal of a lower tribunal ruling last month that stripped him of his congressional immunity from prosecution. British authorities released him in March after doctors said he was mentally and physically unfit to stand trial.

The "caravan of death" is one of 148 criminal complaints filed against Pinochet stemming from the human rights abuses during his long reign. The Judge handling the complaints, Juan Guzman, picked the caravan to seek Pinochet's trial. He has already indicted and detained six other officers in the case.

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